REVIEW: A Dance Photographer Comes Out From Behind The Lens

Dancer, Alexis Convento – photo credit Bill Hebert

By Julia Reynolds for The Dance Journal

I am a dancer, blogger and recent transplant from LA to New York City, who at the convincing of Steven Weisz, the founder of this publication (disclaimer), came to Philadelphia to check out the dance scene at the Philadelphia Live Arts & Fringe Festival.  For my last evening in Philly and after many wonderful dance performances in your city, I was asked to attend the BHPhotos Choreography Showcase at the Community Education Center.

This was very much an informal showcase and tribute to Bill Hebert, who apparently has been photographing and documenting the local dance community for many years.  It was also his birthday celebration as evidenced by a supportive and sold out crowd. There were a total of ten artists/companies that presented for the evening.

This was an evening with many solos as Lauren Williams presented  with a piece called Am I Worth It. Lauren is a fierce dancer, but her use of a long scarf detracted from much of her own presence and seemed to tangle the choreography in places.

MM2 Modern Dance presented two pieces;  the first,  Aftershock , choreographed by Jessica Bryan, led the audience in to an emotional void that many of us have experienced after a traumatic event. The dancers flung themselves fully into both the movement and emotion of the piece. MM2’s second piece got off the ground after a few technical difficulties with a trio of dancers in All Thumbs, choreographed by Brianne Scott.  A dancer, depicting awkwardness and who is gagged, interjects between a male and female couple. While I understood the concept, the dynamic between the male and female dancers was so strong that a third presence seemed at times unnecessary. The piece was well acted and the expressiveness was most humorous.

Fernando Quinones brought the house down with You Should Be Dancin, a solo that was burlesque inspired, complete with a touch of vogueing, winks to the audience and a split thrown in for good measure. The audience was somewhat spared when he stripped down from his black pants and shirt topped with a white jacket , pimped out with sunglasses, alligator shoes and glitter belt to a pair of jean shorts and peach t-shirt. Great fun and a crowd pleaser!

A solo by Scott Park of Dangerous and Movin’ was performed in white face and baseball cap to the sound track from the movie Any Given Sunday, in which a coach depicts life as a game in which you have to fight for every inch.  The piece was innovative, engaging and moving.

The first half of the program concluded with Bill Hebert, photographer now turned videographer, presenting a short film Touch-Feel. Bill has an eye for dance and images, but the white noise of the sound track and uneven edits were a bit distracting. Some of the best images were of the dancer Jaynie Anguiano filmed in shadow behind a fenced walkway. This was Bill’s first venture in to this media and I am sure the Philadelphia community will be seeing more as he develops his craft.

The second half began with a piece called Fiction by Underground DanceWorks.  The program noted the title as a “working title” and the piece felt very much the same, a work in progress. There were interesting moments, as with a brief duet within the piece, but the overall dynamic and direction fell short.

Another solo presented by Alexis Convento of New York called And Then I, was seriously amazing as I was left wondering if this dancer had a gyroscope for her core,  as she moved in both robotic-like movements, interspaced with complete fluidity, like a wave form, to various recordings from 1940’s movies and finally the Stones, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. The piece was humorous and over the top with expression and movement without restraint.  And she did this all while dancing in socks!

Choreographer Megan Mizanty presented invader of mine with dancers Joanna Martin and Rori Smith. This duet had one dancer in a red dress with a white mask and another unmasked dancer in red dress and white top. There is a sense of an internal struggle or fight with in one’s self, which at times turns to horror with a thunderstorm playing in the background. The program alludes to a physical change made to one’s body after an injury.  At times the dynamic between the two dancers was there with sweeping movements and intense physical interactions, and at other times seemed a bit lost, but then perhaps that was the concept.

Dangerous and Movin’ presented a full company piece called The Whites Of Their Eyes. It was another round of white face, which apparently is their trade mark. The costumes in black and white, Hot Topic, goth style, tail coats were striking, the movement while very physical was less so. At the end, we are final clued in to the fact that this is a firing squad as a dancer calls out “Ready, Aim …”

Kiara Lopez presented what had to be the shortest piece of the evening – One Day Your Life Will Flash Before Your Eyes, Make Sure It Is Worth Watching.  It opened with lights slowly going on and off and Kiara switching both her position and pose on stage. The piece continued as an audience member read out loud. The effect was thought provoking and introspective.

The evening concluded with Monarch Dance Company presenting Prey, as at least a dozen warrior women, complete with tribal painted arms took to the stage to thunderous music as the hunt began. I would have liked to have seen this piece in a large space and with better timing and syncopation between the dancers to truly have the intense and powerful effect intended.

As the evening concluded, there was a thunderous applause for all the dancers and a rousing round of Happy Birthday to Bill Hebert, who has supported so many in the Philadelphia dance community. As I return to New York, I can honestly say that my dance experience in Philadelphia was a most fulfilling one!

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